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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

March 9, 2009 at 4:00 PM

Mexican drug cartels

American weapons signaling an American problem

Congress must act to slow the flow of weapons in Mexico.

Horrific drug-cartel violence recently prompted the Pentagon’s Joint Forces Command to rank Mexico alongside Pakistan as a nation at risk of rapid and sudden collapse. And, it prompted the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to urge American students to avoid spring-break trips to Tijuana and other parts of Baja California.

But the violence in Mexico is not just a problem for Mexico; it’s America’s problem, too.

In Arizona, according to The New York Times, there were an astounding 241 border-related kidnappings or hostage takings in the Phoenix area last year alone. In fact, authorities said this figure was actually understated.

Texas, too, has felt the spillover of Mexico’s violence.

There are at least two other factors making Mexico’s problem our problem. First, it is, after all, America’s insatiable demand for drugs that fuels the $10 billion drug-trafficking business in Mexico.

Second, the tens of thousands of weapons used by Mexican cartels in their unrelenting campaign of intimidation and mayhem — from small-caliber pistols to military-style assault weapons and armor-piercing ammunition — come largely from north of the border.

U.S. and Mexican officials say 90 percent of the cartels’ weapons come from the United States.

This country’s demand for drugs has long been understood. The gun issue has only recently begun to get the widespread attention it deserves.

There are numerous steps the U.S. Congress and the Obama administration need to take to slow the cascade of arms to Mexico and help curb the violence:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., says she will introduce legislation to reinstate a federal ban on assault weapons such as the AK-47 rifle, which has become the Mexican cartels’ weapon of choice. Feinstein needs to act quickly, and Congress should enact it without delay.

ATF has reportedly only 200 agents assigned to monitor the thousands of licensed gun dealers in the country, more than 6,600 of which are along the border. The agency clearly needs more resources, which Congress should provide.

Congress should enact federal legislation requiring, at the very least, sales at gun shows be subject to the same computerized, FBI background checks applied to sales at licensed gun stores.

There are no federal limits on the number of guns that can be legally purchased at one time. In fact, though sales of more than one handgun at a time must be reported to ATF, a single buyer can purchase as many long guns, including military-style semi-automatics, as he or she wants with no report of the sale to the federal government.

This is crazy.

Border inspection of traffic headed into Mexico is Mexico’s responsibility, just as inspection of traffic headed north into the United States is our responsibility.

Drug-cartel violence reportedly killed 6,290 people in Mexico last year. It has taken the lives of more than 1,000 people already in 2009.

Most of the weapons used in those vicious killings came from the United States.

This is our problem, too.

— Robert Wright, Yakima

Comments | More in drugs, Mexico


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